Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Lawn Dress

About seven years ago I attended the Martha Pullen sewing show in Arlington Texas. I had never attended a similar show and was feeling a little overwhelmed by all the products being offered. This is strictly a fine sewing show and I remember that every vendor was showing exquisite garments, fabrics, trims and buttons. As I was strolling the aisles I was drawn to a booth run by the Grapevine Collection. There were wonderful wools, linens, silks and cottons. I was gasping for air at the prices. I had never spent more than $7.00 a yard for fabric in my life and here I was touching stuff that was $60.00 a yard for an embroidered light weight wool. Finally I saw a group of fabrics labelled Liberty Cottons and my heart rate decreased a little. I knew about cotton from all the time I had spent in Quilt shops so I felt I could legitimately look at these fabric bolts.

I was drawn to a navy blue cotton with yellow, peach and periwinkle flowers. 'Very cute' I thought and then I touched it. I had never felt a cotton that was so smooth and light weight in my life. A sales woman came over and told me that Liberty cottons were the best in the world. The particular piece I was looking at was so fine it was called Cotton Lawn. I asked what she would make out of it. She suggested a simple sleeveless shift or sun dress and she showed me a couple of patterns with clean lines and no complex sewing. I was hooked and asked her to cut me off an appropriate amount for one of the patterns. She gave me about 3 yards and I went to the checkout. I gasped when I was told this treasure would cost me $80.00. Gingerly I gave them my credit card and accepted my fabric in exchange.

I don't remember much more of that show or the drive home. I dreamed about the wonderful dress I would make fom this fabric, the fabulous parties I would attend and the tall, dark, handsome, rich man who would propose to me when I wore that dress. The next weekend I bought a Very Easy Vogue pattern for a boat necked, sleeveless simple dress. I proceeded to cut and sew my dream dress. Instead of a long zipper it had on a key hole closure at the back. Instead of facings I decided to bind the neck and arm holes. I hand sewed the hem, the bindings and the button loop. I even added pockets. I was very impressed with my skills and knew I had exceeded the quality all of my previous sewing experiences.

Then I tried it on.

The neck line was too high, the arm holes were too small and the bust was too tight. Not too small that I couldn't breathe, or that blood circulation was cut off, but small enough to wrinkle arm and neck skin and flatten breasts. AND it looked really dumpy. After all my studying of articles and books on how to fit a pattern I hadn't even measured myself or the pattern beore putting scissors to fabric. I had forgotten to remove the facing seam allowance before binding the edges. I should have added a couple of darts for my larger than B cups. I should have realised that simple dresses can be dumpy when made out of little floral prints. Not completly frustrated I devised a solution. I thought that if I washed it in the washing machine I could stretch out the offending areas ... after all, it was cotton and it stretched when wet, right? Perfect fit would triumph over dumpy style, right?

Wrong! It came out of the wash, I stretched it to within an inch of its life and tossed it into the dryer. It came out beautifully unwrinkled but not one millimetre bigger at the neck, arms or bust.

My beautiful Liberty of London Cotton Lawn fabric, for the perfect dress to go to parties and entertain charming strangers, became my beautiful Lawn Dress, perfect for walking behind the mower on a hot Texas afternoon.
If, at some time, you are driving in my neighborhood and see an older lady in this dress mowing her lawn or working in the garden, please just keep driving. If you stop and say hello I'll know that you've read this post and I will be reminded, again, what an overly confident fool I am. Thank you.


Andee in Wisc said...

Your story really made me smile. Sometimes we have to make the best out of what we've got! You detinately did and should mow your lawn with pride!

mamalife said...

Oh, ouch! And that is why though I started my sewing days making clothes, I rarely do anymore. There is nothing I hate worse than spending money and time and the pattern does not fit. Sooooo frustrating. Mostly sticking with quilting and bag making these days.

Anonymous said...

Great story! Now I know why designers make a version in muslin before they cut the expensive fabric!

I also wanted to let you know that I'm running a bit late on your Hot Cocoa swap package. I'm working on your "buddy," but it's the first one I've ever done. I'm hoping to have him finished soon! (Everything else is ready to go.)

Take care,
Your Hot Cocoa swap partner

J Harvey said...

You are a wonderful storyteller and teacher rolled into one. As a beginning sewer I shared your joy as you described your "exquisite find" and held my breath as you told of trying on the dress. Right now I'm trying to overcome my fear of sewing garmets that actually fit for myself, which was the main reason I wanted to sew. Thanks so much for sharing.


Linda B. said...

I have read and so many of your blog posts, but there was something so poignant, funny, raw, and recognizable in this particular story. We've all done something similar -- with fabric, food, plants for the garden, etc. -- only to stand their in amazement and wonder "HOW did this happen!???" Thank you so much for sharing this story and for having the wisdom to turn your fine boob flattening frock into a dress for mowing the yard, as we all deserve some finery when doing even the most drudging chores.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alice!

Your Hot Cocoa swap package left the freezing north today and is on its way to you. I suspect it'll show up on Saturday or Monday. Hope you enjoy it!

Your Hot Cocoa Swap partner